Reading about the most recent round of layoffs at The New York Times, I am given to wonder if journalism itself can survive the digital revolution. If The Times is starting to circle the drain, will anything worth being called journalism be left in another few years?
The Times, like everyone else, is a victim of the Internet. And everyone in the media world is desperately searching for the key to their own survival.
But, like the Alan Turing character says in The Imitation Game, you have to fight a machine with a machine.
In this case (as opposed to Nazi cryptography), the machine is the Internet. And if journalism is to survive, then someone is going to have to build a journalism 'machine' that can beat the machine, so to speak.
If anyone seemed capable of building The Journalism Machine, it was Pierre Omidyar. The founder of eBay, one of the first really successful online moneymakers, and clearly a disruptive technology all its own (and now worth some $8 billion) was the man to do it. He had the money, he had the institution knowledge and DNA for the web and he has a passion for great journalism.
A year ago, he launched First Look Media, a company that was supposed to save journalism, or at least good journalism.
So far, it has not worked out that way.
His staff is leaving almost as fast as the staff of The New Republic, another journalism institution that an online billionaire was going to try and save.
Here's the part I don't understand. Both Omidyar and Chris Hughes made their considerable fortunes in the online world. And both of them, although it might not seem that way at first look, created companies that are fundamentally the same -- Facebook and eBay.
They are fundamentally the same because 100% of their content is user generated.
Neither Facebook nor eBay hires any full time (nor even part time) content creators. All of the content comes from... well, us. Whether is it photos of your party last night or your opinion on the Middle East or an old iPod that you want to sell, 100% of it, all of it, comes from us.
In fact, if FB were to hire professional 'writers' for Facebook, whose job it was to go to your house and report on what you did last night (accompanied by a professional photographer), Mark Zuckerberg would be a dermatologist today. If eBay were to hire a professional sales and marketing manager whose job it was to decide what old iPods to buy and then to decide product placement, it is unlikely Pierre Omidyar would be sitting on $8 billion in Hawaii.
Those guys get it.
So why, when it comes to applying their vast talents and even vaster bank accounts to the Gordian Knot of journalism, do they revert back to the old school model?
Why do they hire professional writers and professional journalists and think that their job is to redact and publish what their employees have written?
How very 20th Century.
But where would the content, the reporting, for a 21st century journalism machine come from? It would come from 'us' -- the very same place every single thing on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Airbnb and Tripadvisor and eBay comes from. From us.
And how are we to create all this vast content?
Do you have an iPhone or smart phone in your pocket?
That is not really a phone. That is a node for content creation. A machine designed to make content. Text. Video. Stills. It does it all. And it uploads it. And for free.
And there are (get this!), 1.4 billion of these things in the world today.
That's a LOT of content creation.
That's a lot of journalism
And they're already in places like Syria and Cuba and Iraq and Ferguson. Hello, news desk? Get me rewrite.
And how can we 'trust' what those 1.4 billion people have to 'report'?
You can look it up,
On WIkipedia, which is also made up of 100% user generated content and is better, richer, more accurate and a whole lot better than, say, the Encyclopedia Britannica - another old school institution,
So come on Pierre. Come on Chris.
Get in touch with your inner self, and go and build the journalism enigma machine.
You already know how to do it..